love psychoanalysis

islands, islets, and reservoirs

If I had to measure the progress of my analysis in terms of the abatement of my symptoms, I’d have to say that it’s being a disaster. The one symptom with which I walked in — or, rather, the symptom that took me there — was paralyzing terror, and the terror is alive and kicking. In fact, the terror has worsened. When I walked into my therapist’s office I was scared out of my mind, but I wasn’t agoraphobic. Now I’m scared out of my mind and badly agoraphobic.

But I’m being imprecise. Agoraphobia developed later, as a way, I believe, to give borders and definition to the terror. Unbound terror is impossible to live with. My mind decided that I’d be safe inside the house, thus giving itself much needed respite. And I’m not scared out of my mind the way I was then. I’m scared out of my mind occasionally; most times, I’m pretty much okay as long as I stay home or within the confines of an area that my mind perceives as pretty safe. The size of this area changes. Sometimes, on good stretches, it’s a sizable area. Sometimes I feel pretty good. Lately I’ve felt terrible.

There are a few things that are making these days terrible, not that I understand them all. One of these things, I think, is that the group of humans who make me feel like I am taken care of has temporarily rearranged itself. Another of these things is that I feel a devastating, reciprocal love between my therapist and me.

The first thing is something my mind grasps pretty easily. If I think of people’s reassuming their ordinary places and roles in my life I immediately, and I hope rightly, anticipate relief. The second thing I understand only with a sort of therapeutic instinct. There are parts of me that seem to float at some distance from the main island of my raw emotional self — little islets connected only with pontoons or maybe thin isthmuses. Or maybe that’s how I see things now because the part of me who is writing this is sitting smack in the middle of the Raw Emotional Self island and perceives those other pieces of land as small and distant. In any case, the Therapeutic Instinct islet tells me that it is impossible that I should be delving deeply into the warm throbbing love between my therapist and me, allow myself to feel it, allow myself to believe in it fully, without being absolutely terrified.

The day I met her I told myself, “I will not fall in love with this woman.” Of course I failed repeatedly, but always managed to keep some reservoirs of distance (in the guise of rage, contempt, paranoia, indifference, etc.) between us. Now, for the first time, these reservoirs have evolved into stagnant swamps, drained down a sinkhole of steady, unflinching work on both of our parts.

The Therapeutic Instinct island tells me it is not possible that I should relinquish the distancing mechanism that have kept me sane and functioning all this time without experiencing a serious worsening of symptoms.

Now, what do we make of all these water metaphors?

love psychoanalysis

learning to love

Glassell Park graffiti, L.A.

I am now loving my analyst. What a difficult feeling this has been to carve, hold, allow, sustain. I almost don’t mind missing her terribly on weekends because this missing does not feel, as it used to, like the desperate abandonment endured by an uncomprehending baby but, rather, like the wrenching longing for someone who is temporarily absent but fundamentally there, loved and loving, certain to return. While the week could not go any faster, the weekend minutes etch themselves in my mind in precise detail. I notice them all. The weekend is a very rich time. These excruciatingly slow days are their own gift in intensity and abundance.

My mother is visiting, but how to explain to her, the woman who could not teach me love, what it is to push myself up and, step by little step, learn to love on my own? In this slow slow weekend I tell her that I’m very sad; she helps me any way she can, tenderly, solicitously, attentively. She does or does not ask me why, but it doesn’t matter, because if I tell her I miss my analyst she’ll simply say, soothingly, “Oh, but you’ll see her soon!” Yet this is a gift, too, this ham-fisted consoling, this trying to make me things better for me, to obliterate the pain with reason. There could be dismissal, incomprehension, jealousy. I am grateful for every moment in which those who love me do not feel jealous of the fierce love I feel for my analyst.

In fact, I am genuinely lucky with my cheering crowd, my little fan club. They love my therapist for teaching me to love her. Miraculously, they understand. Would I understand if I were in their place? No, not yet. I haven’t yet learned to run on my own. I am only now beginning to walk, step by little wobbly step.